Connecting the Invisible Spirit of God With the Work of Our Hands

MEET 5280 FELLOW BANKS BENITEZ

I’m an entrepreneur and I help lead a secular organization based in Five Points here in Denver called the Unreasonable Institute. We help entrepreneurs scale for-profit businesses that are addressing major social and environmental issues.

Unreasonable Institute matches entrepreneurs with mentors and leads workshops on topics like sales, marketing, and financial modeling. We invest in the companies and do everything in our power to de-risk them and increase their chances of success so they can create more impact. Many people see us as an entrepreneurial incubator or accelerator – but I see us as doing God’s redemptive and restorative work in our nation and our world.

I’ll give you an example of one of the companies we work with. In Florida there’s a company called Rising Tide Car Wash. Rising Tide Car Wash is a car wash… but it is employed by people with autism. They can employ up to 70 people with autism at one location, and it turns out that people with autism are far better at drying cars and cleaning hubcaps than people without autism. They are detail-oriented, they’re reliable, and they take a deep pride in their work, which makes them extraordinary workers.

And here’s the thing: Rising Tide Car Cash consistently outperforms its competitors in terms of revenue and profit because of its unique employment model. They are taking what society labels a disability – a liability – and they’re turning it into their competitive advantage. They’re elevating and celebrating people who society has written off as a burden, and they’re saying, “No, you don’t understand. Autism is our advantage.”

I look at Rising Tide – a secular, for-profit organization – and I see the fingerprint of Jesus all over it. The last will be first, and the first will be last (Matthew 20:16),  the weak things of this world will shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27), and whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me (Matthew 25:45). Rising Tide testifies to the countercultural, paradoxical beauty of the gospel. And here’s the cool thing: it testifies through its impressive income statement, the non-believers on its management team, and its for-profit legal structure.

At the Unreasonable Institute, we’ve been blessed to work with over 500 entrepreneurs in 50 countries around the world just like Rising Tide, and we feel like we’re just getting started. Five years in, I press on because of what I believe this work points to, how it can be a small taste of heaven, how it can reveal the hidden DNA of our Creator that is imprinted on our balance sheets, staffing models, and vacation policies, and that is woven into the fabric of our communities, into the asphalt of our streets.

There are many out there like me, people who want our lives and our work to have divine significance. We want to know what to do with our gospel between nine and five. We want to know how we can be agents of redemption in our cubicle, in our neighborhood, in our city.

But here’s the thing: we never have been practically taught how to do it.

There’s no playbook. We don’t know where to start. We don’t have role models and mentors who are living integrated lives. We get told from the pulpit to have the “aroma of Christ,” to “live counter-culturally,” to “integrate our faith with our work.” But that’s where it stops. The existing approach to leadership development is just not enough to raise up a generation of leaders who are actually equipped to be agents of redemption.

And it is out of that hunger for a different kind of education that I sought out and found Denver Institute for Faith & Work (DIFW) and the 5280 Fellowship. It seems to me that the whole concept of the 5280 Fellowship orbits around this question: “What is it actually going to take to create true transformation in the next generation of leaders?”

I’m guessing DIFW would say that to get to true transformation, it’s not enough by itself just to read Scripture and other books by wise theologians (though that is a start). Nor is it enough by itself to convene a community of peers, or to only have good teaching, or only to rely on the wisdom of sage mentors.

Rather, if our North Star is the transformation of leaders into the image of Christ, then perhaps all of these things in concert with each other, sequenced and spaced, carefully designed, expertly led, and wholly surrendered to God, can lead to the conditions of transformation that will raise up a generation of leaders who are truly equipped and commissioned. And that’s exactly what DIFW has built.

Now, I’m only halfway through the Fellowship so far, but it is working. It is working. If education in the 19th century was defined by memorization, and education in the 20th century was defined by critical thinking, then the 5280 fellowship is the model of education for the 21st century: Discipleship-led, peer-centered, practically-oriented, and deeply embedded in the context of real-life.

The Fellowship connects the invisible spirit of God with the tangible work of our hands. I’ll say that again, but using different words, because it’s the most unique element of the Fellowship’s model: It begins with a Scripture-based theology and does not stop until it helps leaders see how that theology is manifested in real action, day-in and day-out. That’s an enormous distance to travel, and the Fellowship spans it because that is what it takes.

Some Christian communities are long on ideas and short on action. The Fellowship stands in the gap, connecting the two. For me, it’s power has been in its invitation to see the ways the gospel is woven into the fabric of work, culture, neighborhood, city, and nation. I’m a more spirit-led, heart-centered, and courageous leader as a result, and I’ve found other people who are on a similar journey.

The Indian author Arundhati Roy once said, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” The 5280 Fellowship is ensuring that by transforming leaders, that world is on her way sooner than even we expected.

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About the author: Banks Benitez is the head of global expansion at the Unreasonable Institute and a Fellow in the 2016-2017 session.